December 23, 2011
There are a few goaltenders rather displeased with the NHL right now about offensive players intentionally barreling into them while they reside inside the cozy confines of their crease. These few goalies believe they're not being protected enough. To those goaltenders, we'd offer the following advice.
Get hurt. Badly.
The NHL has shown, time and again, that it responds to the cocktail of (a) widespread politicking about an issue and (b) catastrophic injury. Rule 48 was born after a season of stretchers on the ice and public outrage over the inadequacies of the rulebook to deal with blindside hits. The rulebook was again altered for head shots and boarding calls after Sidney Crosby's concussion and the subsequent outrage. Let's not forget that the rink itself was altered at the stanchion following the Chara/Pacioretty affair.
So it's not enough for Ryan Miller and Jimmy Howard to complain about players taking runs at them; we need a significant goaltender to suffer a significant injury as a result of one of these plays. (And no, Miller/Lucic happened outside the crease, so Miller's bell being rung doesn't count.)
That is, if the complaints of players like Miller and Howard are even valid. If only the goal crease were an alligator pit ...
Via Bill Hoppe of the Niagara Gazette, Miller spoke about the goalie running on Thursday:
"It's just the way the game's going," Miller told a throng of cameras and reporters Thursday prior to the Sabres' 3-2 loss to the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. "Obviously, I pay attention to other games in the league and I think it's becoming a little bit of the guys are trying to arrive at the net without a plan."
… "I've heard some funny analogies," Miller said. "I ran into (former referee) Bill McCreary the other day and he just said, 'If it's an alligator pit, they'd stop.' But it's not — you know, it's where you go to score goals. These guys have the ability to stop on a dime, turn, cut, take a hit."
(You know, if the crease was an alligator pit, the ratings in the U.S. would top the NFL. Especially if they had lasers on their frickin' heads too. If nothing else, it would add an interesting wrinkle to video reviews, as the War Room ponders if the puck crossed the goal line or was swallowed by a giant lizard.)
Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings added his voice to the chorus earlier this week after Jannik Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks collided with him, leading to an Alex Edler goal. (The NHL later said the goal should not have counted.) Howard, on Wednesday: "I'm just sick and tired of getting run over. It's every single game."
On Thursday, he added a little nuance to his criticism, via the Freep:
"You want to be able to do your job, first and foremost," Howard said Thursday. "Nobody was asking for a penalty to be called. I got no problem with guys going to the net hard and trying to make plays; it's part of the game. But I also want to be able to do my job out there."
"I've rarely seen anything that's warranted real punishment, but I mean, the guys are a lot stronger, a lot bigger and a lot faster," Howard said. "But, I'm a tough guy, I got no problem with guys going to the net, trying to create scoring opportunities."
Which, of course, is something that's happened since skates and sticks first touched frozen water …
I don't believe we're seeing an epidemic of goaltenders being run this season, nor am I exactly sympathetic to their plight. Goalies in the NHL are already coddled when they venture outside their crease — remember, Lucic was penalized for the Miller play. They're also protected within their crease: Howard should ask Mr. Franzen and Mr. Holmstrom what happens when their reputations get within two feet of a goaltender.
I don't believe crease crashers deserve supplemental discipline just because their infractions were against a player that thinks he deserves protected species status. Part of this, no doubt, comes from my frustrations with the NFL over-protecting its investments, er, quarterbacks to the point of ridiculousness. I could see the NHL getting to that point, too, if the politics push it there.
Stu Hackel of SI had a piece on all of this today, and offered a midpoint between suspensions for, and apathy towards, players running goalies:
The NHL has taken steps during the past year to make the rink safer and this would be a step in the other direction. I suggested instead that the league should make this infraction a double minor, perhaps that's the way to go.
Miller's solution — that the league must keep calling penalties — is correct. But like other things the league does to discourage particular acts on the ice, the current two-minute minor is not enough of a deterrent. If stepped-up use of the minor penalty doesn't work, maybe the GMs and players should consider imposing a double minor.
Again, what makes us weary about increased penalties for physicality against goaltenders?
They don't get all the calls. But they certainly draw their share.